SOL Rising

Number 27, December 2002

View From The Chair: Onward and Upward
From The Collection Head: Opportunities Lost; Opportunities Taken
Nothing But 'Net: Websites of Interest
The Vance Integral Edition
So Bad They're Good: Toby Hooper's Lifeforce

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View From The Chair: Onward and Upward

A lot has happened since my last column that is of importance to he Friends. I'll start with what I and most of the executive consider to be the single most important event since the collection moved to its current location: the installation of The Merril Collection banner on the front of the library building.

For those of you who haven't seen it yet, the banner is two stories tall, overlooks College Street, and features the little green man from Frank Kelly Freas' painting "Martians Go Home." Most importantly; it says The Merril Collection of Science Fiction across the top. We have been trying to get exterior signage for the Collection ever since the building opened in 1995. It was a long and often frustrating wait, but the end result is spectacular. Our thanks go out to Suzanna Birchwood of the Toronto Public Library's Marketing & Communications staff.

Special thanks also go to Andrew Specht for his tireless efforts to photograph the day-long installation of the banner, which rook place an June 15 (it rained mast of the day of the banner installation). Some of his photographs are included in this issue. Andrew's an excellent photographer and the executive is delighted that he’s able and willing to volunteer his services on an ongoing basis. We've collected other photographs Andrew took at various Friends of Merril events into a special center section for this issue of SOL Rising.

Webmaster Jim Pattison has also completed an important project since the last issue of SOL Rising. He has put all the back issues of SOL Rising onto our website. As always, he did a great job, so if you haven’t already seen them go to for a fascinating look through the Merril Collection's past.

And while on the subject of SOL Rising I'd like to welcome Sabrina Fried, our new editor & designer. We have big plans for Sabrina and we're confident that she'll be able to live up to the high standards set by her predecessor, Liam Corkery Hustins.

Merril events these past months included book launches by Scott Mackay, Ursula Pflug, Karl Schroeder, and Emily Pohl-Weary, whose launch for Better To Have Loved The Life of Judith Merril was extremely well received. Many of the members present had actually known Judy and could appreciate the evening as a fond tribute to her memory. It was only fitting that Emily's biography of her grandmother was launched in the Collection that she founded.

Upcoming events include the annual Christmas Cream Tea, our second Art :Show, set for January, the 7th annual Fantastic Pulps Show & Sale on April 26, 2003, and the Annual General Meeting on Saturday, May 3rd. The Merril will also be taking part in Pandemonium, the annual gaming convention on the January 17 weekend. The American Library Association will be having its annual convention in Toronto in June. Over 10,000 librarians will attend, and many of them are expected to tour the Merril Collection and look at the displays. The pre-convention meeting of the Rare Books & Manuscripts librarians will be held in the Lillian H. Smith building and will help to publicize the Merril Collection in library circles.

Due to the unusual number of upcoming events, I'm asking now that anyone interested in volunteering please contact Lorna Toolis well in advance, so that we'll have enough bodies for all these occasions. We will also need some people willing to put in a couple of hours work at the TPL table at next year's Word on the Street. Due to miscommunication, our new colour flyers were not made available to the public at this year's event, and I want to make sure that this does not happen again next year.

Jamie Fraser, Vice Chair

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From The Collection Head: Opportunities Lost; Opportunities Taken

As I write this, I have just finished talking to Mary McConnell, a senior librarian from the University of Calgary, in charge of assessing and dealing with the Gibson donation. For those of you who missed the coverage, William (Robert) Gibson died when he was 92, and left his extensive collection of sci­ence fiction and fantasy materials to the University of Calgary. His surviving family support his decision. The University of Calgary is extremely pleased with the donation, and is trying to work out what kind of com­mitment they must make to add these sf materials to their library's special collections holdings. (Anyone interested in more details should check the University of Calgary's web page at:

There has always been a keen interest in the idea of a science fiction collection in the west by the members of the sf community who live there. The University of Calgary's library management went en masse to Calgary's science fiction convention, Conversion, to try and get a better understanding of the sf community. They found it a major outreach opportunity, meeting many people who were considering using the University library system for the first time. The local academic community is also evidencing keen interest in using the collection.

Library work is like an iceberg; what patrons see is the tip of the iceberg, what library staff work on is the larg­er, invisible part. So, we talked about the cost of staffing, for reference and for cataloguing. We talked about funds for adding to the collection and the nature of the materials they might want to consider adding. We talked about funds for conservation, always a con­cern for anyone who deals with older materials. We talked about space; most librarians, like most sf readers, develop an obsessive interest in how many books can be housed in a very small space.

We parted promising further contacts, exchanges of subject authority headings, and possible exchanges of duplicate lists. It was a good morning. As someone once said, "Louis, this looks like the start of a beautiful friendship!"

It was sad to compare this meeting with a call I received from the Winnipeg Free Press in the last week of October. The reporter wanted comments on the forthcoming sale of the Stimpson donation by the University of Winnipeg to Lloyd Currey, the American bookdealer.

I knew Bob Stimpson. At a time when acne was my major problem in life, he was one of a group of young collectors who gathered on Sundays at Chester Cuthbert's house in Winnipeg and ordered books as a collective, the better to receive a larger discount. We spent the afternoon discussing books; which dealers were better, who collected what kind of material, prob­lems with the Post Office ...they were very good after­noons. None of our elders ever had to worry about our becoming involved with alcohol or drugs, we had nei­ther the time nor the interest, having effectively become hooked on books. None of us worried, back then, about what would happen to our collections when we died; we were all forty years away from that kind of concern.

Bob Stimpson willed his book collection to the University of Winnipeg. It was probably a belt and suspenders kind of precaution; he had no reason to expect to die in 1996, he was only 47 years old. He had become a major collector over the years, intending to start as a book dealer after his retirement from Manitoba Hydro, as so many people do. While he had willed his book collection to the University, he hadn't had time to discuss the donation with either the library staff or University management. The University of Winnipeg library system has always had a keen understanding of science fic­tion and a sound sf collection. Unfortunately, the University has major debt problems. So, his donation was stored in a nearby bus depot for six years and then sold to a book dealer for distinctly less than its appraised value, rather than let it continue to decay in storage.

It is very sad for everyone. For the University library, which was unable to avail itself of the opportunity. For the students, who will not have access to the materials. For Bob Stimpson, who tried very hard to do the right thing. Libraries deserve and appreciate your support. However, the moral I draw from this story is that surprising organizations is not a good thing. Collective bodies are less flexible than individuals. Their planning cycle is longer, and their budgets may be a matter for (administrative) prayer.

Your institutions deserve and appreciate your support. In order to donate intelligently, pre­pare in advance. The Merril Collection welcomes donations and receives many every year -you will notice the list of benefactors in the sidebar. It is easy to donate; all you have to do is pick up the phone and talk to the friendly person on the other end of the line. Then you can be sure, in your own mind, that the materials you love will be housed and cherished and made available to other people who care about them. You will provide for your spouses and your cats; it only makes sense to do the same for your books.

Lorna Toolis

Contact Information for Selected Libraries Around Ontario:

Please contact libraries about their donation policies before sending in a donation.



Outside GTA:

  • Carleton University (613) 520-7400, ext. 8140,
  • Ottawa Public Libraries Development Office (613) 236-0302
  • University of Waterloo Department of Special Collections (519) 888-4567
  • University of Western Ontario (519) 661-3162

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Nothing But ‘Net: Websites Of Interest

Every so often I stumble across a website so fascinating that I immediately want to send the URL to everyone in my address book. The Pitch Drop Experiment, located at, is a perfect example. In 1927, Thomas Parnell, a physics professor at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, decided to perform an experiment to demonstrate unusual properties of a common substance. He chose pitch, a tar-like material used to seal joints in the hulls of ships. Pitch exhibits some of the properties of fluids, even though it is quite brittle at normal room temperatures. Prof. Parnell took some pitch, heated it and poured it into a funnel that was sealed at the bottom. After letting the pitch settle for three years (!), he cut the seal, allowing the pitch to drip into the beaker below. The first drop fell eight years later, in December 1938, and drops have been falling at more-or-less regular intervals ever since. The most recent—the 8th—fell in November 2000. The website contains a description of the experiment, and a link to a webcam that provides a live video image of the funnel and beaker, which are currently in a display case in the foyer of the university's physics building. If you check out the video feed at the right time of day—taking into account the 14-hour time difference between Toronto and Brisbane—you can see students walking by in the background. Because the building is now air-conditioned, the average temperature of the pitch is lower than it was when Parnell started the experiment. As a result, the interval between drops is increasing, so I'll make a note to check back in on this sometime in, say, 2010.


I used to collect laser videodiscs, and many of my favourite discs were Japanese imports. I turned to Japanese discs simply because the format was much more popular there than it ever was here, and there were a lot of cool titles released in Japan that never saw the light of day in North America. A particular specialty of Japanese home video companies was boxed sets containing consecutive episodes of a TV series, often an entire season at a time. The obsolescence of the videodisc format compelled me to eventually sell off most of my collection, but one thing I kept was my shelf of imported X-Files sets containing the first seven seasons of Chris Carter's paranoid masterpiece. I never thought I'd see their like on DVD. Hey, what did I know? DVD has become so popular so fast that the studios are releasing everything they can to keep up with the demand. Since most studios have vast libraries of old TV shows, it was only a matter of time before someone put two and two together. Some of the first series to appear on DVD were science fiction classics like The Twilight Zone, the original Star Trek and (yes!) The X-Files, but recent months have also seen the release of more mainstream fate: both dramas (Law And Order) and sitcoms (The Mary Tyler Moore Show). In fact, the flood of TV material on DVD is now so constant that there's a website devoted solely to tracking and reviewing new releases. It's called TV Shows On DVD, and it's located at You can browse the release schedule to see what's coming in the next few months, or look up your favourite series to see what's already available, and whether it's worth picking up. SF series continue to set the pace, with complete runs of Babylon 5, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Farscape, The Outer Limits, The Prisoner, Space 1999, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Stargate SG-1, Twin Peaks, and many more either available now, or in the works. Some might question the wisdom of buying something you can watch off the air more-or-less far free, but once you experience Mulder and Scully in anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital sound, a crystal clear picture and no commercials, there's no turning back.


I also used to collect comic books. As with videodiscs, the bulk of my collection was sold long ago, but thanks to Nick Simon's Silver Age Marvel Comics Cover Index, I can revisit the comics I used to own, and drool over the ones I always wanted but could never afford. The goal of the site is simple: display an image of the cover of every Marvel comic book published during the “Silver Age”. This is the period that began with the publication of Fantastic Four #1 (dated November 1961) and ended approximately ten years later, by which time Stan Lee had stopped writing most of Marvel's output. The site also has incomplete runs of covers for titles published prior to FF #1 that became important in the Silver Age: comics like Tales To Astonish, Journey Into Mystery and the suggestively-titled Amazing Adult Fantasy. You can browse the covers by title or by publication date, so you can see which issue of Daredevil came out the same month as your favourite issue of Spider-Man. (Did you know that the first issues of The Avengers and The X-Men were both published in the same month? It's true —giants did walk the earth in those days.) The images have been collected from a number of different sources, so their size and quality varies considerably. It should also be noted that the design of the site is probably more cluttered than it needs to be. But if the words "It's clobbering time!" bring a smile to your face, then this one is a must-see.


Jim Pattison

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The Vance Integral Edition

Imagine a shelf in your bookcase filled with a match­ing set of elegantly designed books containing the complete works of your favourite author. While such sets are common for major writers like Charles Dickens and Mark Twain, they are virtually unknown in the field of science fiction. But for fans of Jack Vance, such a set, dubbed the Vance Integral Edition (or VIE for short) is about to become a reality. The fact that these books are being published for a writer known primarily for his science fiction is significant in its own right, but what really distinguishes the 44‑volume VIE is the manner in which it is being produced


Vance began publishing stories in sf magazines in 1945. His first book, The Dying Earth, followed in 1950. Five decades later, now in his mid‑eighties, he is still writing. He is the author of a large and varied body of work that includes not just science fiction and fanta­sy, but also mysteries. But despite a World Fantasy Life Achievement Award and an SFWA Grand Master Award, not to mention the praise of many writers who cite Vance as a major influence, much of his work is now out of print.


In early 1999, Paul Rhoads, an American artist living in France, was visiting Jack Vance and his wife Norma at their home in California. While there, Rhoads saw a copy of a German‑language edition of one of Vance's novels published by Edition Andres Irle, a one‑man small press based in Germany. Impressed by the simple elegance of the book, Rhoads wondered about the pos­sibility of publishing Vance's complete works in English in a similar format. With the aid of the author's son John, some inquiries were made. Initial responses indi­cated that such a set would not be economically feasi­ble: the anticipated sales would not be high enough to offset the production costs. Rhoads—who knew noth­ing about publishing, and who had never used a com­puter—conceived the idea of publishing the books as a non‑profit venture. If all of the production work was done on a volunteer basis by fans of Vance's work, then the books could be sold to subscribers for the cost of printing and binding alone. In the summer of 1999, Mike Berro, a fan and collector, published Rhoads' call for volunteers on his Jack Vance website. The response was immediate and overwhelming: the Vance Integral Edition was born. (Technically speaking, the term Vance Integral Edition refers to both the books themselves, and the non‑profit corporation set up to publish them.)


The first step in the project was to get all of Vance's stories and novels into a computerized form. In most cases, this meant scanning a copy of the text from a book or magazine. Although this sounds easy, it can in fact be quite diffi­cult. Scanning text that was originally printed on cheap paper that is now yellowing with age is equal parts art and science. Much trial and error was required to per­fect a process that guarantees a "clean" copy of the text, with no errors introduced by the scanning process.


Once the text was computerized, the next step was to make sure that it was correct. Careful proofreading was required to identify, and remove the typos, spelling mis­takes and other flaws that existed in the original publi­cations used for scanning. Just as important was the goal of publishing Vance's preferred version of each text. This too turned out to be easier said than done. Early on, it was discovered that there are variations in the texts for many of Vance's publications. In cases where the manuscript still exists, differences can be seen between what Vance wrote and what was originally published. Comparing subsequent editions and print­ings will often reveal further variants—some of them quite extensive. These differences can be the result of changes made by Vance himself (good), changes made by an editor with or without Vance's knowledge (maybe good, maybe bad), or simply errors introduced during the production of a particular publication (bad). Determining the correct text for each story or novel requires a fair bit of literary detective work. This is espe­cially true if the manuscript has been lost. In many cases, the text that will be published by the VIE has been constructed (or reconstructed) from a painstaking comparison between two or more different versions of the story in question. A major resource for this part of the project, called “textual integrity”, is the Mugar Memorial Library in Boston, which contains a large archive of Vance's papers and surviving manuscripts. An even more important resource is Norma Vance, who has served as her husband's assistant for many years, and whose knowledge of his work is second to none.


My personal involvement with the VIE began in the spring of 2001. After lurking on the project's website for a number of months, I decided to take the plunge and become both a subscriber and volunteer. By that point, the first corrected texts were just beginning to emerge from the textual integrity process, and were ready for composition. Additional proofreading, called post‑proofing, was then required to make sure that no errors were introduced during the composition stage. While post‑proofing is intended to identify formatting or composition errors (such as improper use of italics), any type of error is fair game. Post‑proofing is really the VIE's last line of defense: anything missed by a post‑proofing team will probably end up in the published books. To date, I have completed over a dozen post-proofing assignments, on texts ranging from a six‑page short story to a 533-­page novel. This makes me a member of an international team of several hun­dred volunteers who have contributed to the VIE. Our efforts are made possible through the widespread availability of both relatively inexpensive personal computers and the Internet itself. Although the resulting set of books will hopefully reflect the refined elegance of an earlier era, the VIE is truly a product of the modern age. Even a few years ago, with the technology available at the time, a project of this scope simply would not have been practical.


An early supporter of the VIE was Paul Allen, fine of the founders of Microsoft, and a long‑time fan of Vance's work. Since one of the goals of the project is to raise Vance's literary profile, getting sets of the books into public libraries as well as private collections is an important part of the process. As a result, Allen's charitable foundation made a grant of $50,000 (US) to the VIE for the purpose of purchasing sets to be donated to libraries throughout the English‑speaking world. When a request for suggested recipients of these donated sets was made, I submitted a nomination on behalf of the Merril Collection. The initial response to the nomination was positive. While the final list of recipient libraries has yet to be announced, it seems likely that the Merril Collection will be one of them.


The current schedule calls for the publication of the first wave of VIE texts ‑ 22 volumes ‑ in early 2003, with the remaining books following sometime in late 2003 or early 2004. Dedicated volunteers around the world have already committed tens of thousands of hours to the project, with many more to come. This level of commitment is a testament to Vance’s achievements as a writer. The 44 vol­umes of the VIE will serve as a lasting reminder of those achievements, and will form an important part of the Merril Collection in years to come.


Jim Pattison


Postscript: The Merril Collection received its copies of the 22 volumes comprising Wave 1 of the Vance Integral Edition in May, 2003.

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So Bad They’re Good: Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce

An occasional look at sf movies that bombed at the box office despite big budgets and pretensions to grandeur ‑ but took on new lives as “cult” films.


Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce: A masterpiece, except for the writing, directing and acting


After his success with Poltergeist, great things were expected of director Tobe Hooper. He was handed a huge budget and a free directorial hand for his next project, a film of Colin Wilson's science fiction novel The Space Vampires. The resulting film, Lifeforce, featured a multinational cast, spaceship effects right out of 2001: A Space Odyssey, crowds of zombies running amok while London burns, and beautiful naked space vampiress. Planned as a big­ bucks blockbuster, it lasted about a week in theatres. Reviews were almost unanimously rotten, the author of the book called the movie “perhaps the worst movie ever made,” and movie viewers stayed away in droves. But now, more than 15 years later, ask around and vou’ll hear people praising the movie, even calling it their favourite film. Why? Well, the phrase “guilty pleasure” seems to pop up often.


Many films reach “cult” status by being “so bad they're good.” This stature can be reached in two ways. The first is by being just plain inept: a bad script, bad acting, no budget, or all of the above. The second way is to start off with a talented cast, a good book, scads of money, the intention to make a blockbuster, and to have everything go badly astray. Lists of titles in both categories can be rhymed off. For instance, anything by the incomparable Ed Wood Jr. would fall into the first category. Movies such as Showgirls, Glitter and Lifeforce fall firmly into the latter category. The actors, a stellar group of distinguished British and American thespians, seem to be in two differ­ent movies—the Brits understated and quiet, the Americans running around chewing the scenery—but all of them delivering surprisingly lousy performances.


The bags of money, spent on the film all went to special effects (including an unintentionally hilarious scene in which Star Trek's Patrick Stewart disintegrates into a blob of blood in a military helicopter), and this is one of the first priorities to qualify a movie for “so bad it's good” status. A look on the website “Film Score: The Online Magazine of Motion Picture and Television Music Appreciation” gives same further indications. "It's a ‘50s ‘B’ sci‑fi movie blown up to epic proportions, and ... it's played so totally straight it threatens to veer into self‑parody throughout," A reviewer for the web site, Andy Dursin, writes, "London is in flames as the population turns into zombies! Buildings blow up right and left! Big special effects fill the screen! Mathilda (the space vam­piress) still walks around naked! The dialogue is even dumber than before! ... I think I've made it clear by now why this film holds such entertainment value for those of us who treasure this sort of thing."


And that's the crux of it ‑ it's a guilty pleasure, so bad it's good. A masterpiece‑except for the writing, directing and acting.


Next issue: Battlefield Earth: What were they thinking?


Ted Brown

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